Solar contractors

Papers, please: How to get certified to install solar panels

Employment of solar installers is projected to grow 22% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What kind of education and certification do you need to start a new career and stay competitive? In this article, we’ll learn how to get certified to install solar panels.

Go to college

A high school education is an absolute minimum for a solar installer. Focus on subjects like math and science to build a strong foundation. Consider enrolling in a vocational or technical program related to solar technology. Look for programs at community colleges or technical schools that teach you how to install solar panels and work with electrical systems.

While higher education is not a strict necessity, an associate degree in Science or a bachelor's degree in Engineering can boost your career. In some states, a diploma helps a lot with getting electrical and contractor licenses.

When you get familiar with the basics of electrical work, try to find an apprenticeship program with a solar installation company. This allows you to learn hands-on skills from experienced professionals. Learn more in our article on how to become a solar installer.

Get electrical and contractor licenses

You can start your career by joining a solar company as an assistant. Alternatively, you can work as an independent solar installer but the status comes with paperwork. The requirements for installers are different in every state but most often, you’ll have to obtain an electrical license and a general contractor license. 

Electrical license

An electrical license, as the name implies, allows you to do electrical work which includes home and industrial electrical systems. The process for getting it varies from state to state. It can be issued at the state’s Department of Labor, Board of Electricians, Division of Building Safety or a related agency. Some states don’t have a statewide license and instead, you have to get licensed in a particular city. 

$40,000-$60,000 average solar installer salary in the US

There are three main categories of licenses: apprentice electrical license, journeyman license and master license. The requirements for them include a certain number of hours of electric work or years of experience, hours of classroom training and passing a licensing exam. 

General contractor license

A general contractor license is a necessity in the construction industry and renovation projects. The license proves the contractor knows federal and local building codes and regulations that ensure the safety of their work. The state often requires a contractor license if the cost of a project you want to take on exceeds a certain amount. For example, you would need a license in Alabama if you work on residential projects over $10,000 or swimming pools over $5,000.

Some states have a special licensing procedure for solar contractors in particular

The procedure for getting a license, again, varies from state to state. Look for a state or town agency like the Contractors Licensing Board, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Labor and like. The requirements may include proof of experience, a diploma in a related field, recommendations, proof of liability and workers' compensation insurance, and passing exams in trade, business management and law.

Getting a license means paying fees. Besides, licenses have to be renewed every few years.

Vasilii Smirnov
Solar Installation Expert

Some states do not accept the certificates that were issued in other regions. For instance, I had trouble working on solar projects in New Jersey with a certification issued in Nevada.

Keep growing with supplementary courses

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Once you get your licenses, you can start working as an independent solar installer. You’ll need to accumulate hours of work or years of experience to upgrade your licenses and get new ones.

To further boost your skills and resume, you can look for additional courses and training programs. Some of them may be instrumental for a certain position, project or further certification. Here are some examples:

• Education platforms such as 360training, Udemy, HeatSpring, SEIA Solar 101 offer inexpensive online courses on electrical standards, safety and renewable energy. If you missed any topic during your formal education, these platforms can help fill in the gaps.
• Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers courses on topics such as Industrial Hygiene, Ergonomics, Electrical Standards and many more. Their 10-hour course on basic safety and health information for workers in construction and general industry is a prerequisite for NABCEP solar installer certification.
• SEI (Solar Energy International), Udemy and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) itself have courses that prepare you for NABCEP certification exams. NABCEP also has a wide range of courses on photovoltaics and the National Electric Code.

If the idea of installing solar panels on roofs doesn’t appeal to you, there is room to move and grow in this field. There are courses for designers of solar systems, sales professionals, solar inspectors and instructors. 

NABCEP certification is recognized across the world

Once you spend some time in the industry, it makes sense to figure out how to get certified for solar panel installation. The most popular choice is NABCEP certification. It boosts income, shows your credibility and makes working as a solar expert around the world easier. The board claims that certified solar installers earn over $11,000 more per year on average, compared to contractors without certification. 

There are NABCEP certificates for several career pathways in the solar industry. The most standard choice would be a simple PV installation professional. Other options include certification as a Technical Sales Professional, Commissioning & Maintenance Specialist, PV Design Specialist, and PV System Inspector.

$500

average cost of applying and taking an exam for NABCEP certification

Each certification has a set of requirements that an applicant should meet. For example, to get a PV Installation Professional (PVIP) certificate, you have to complete a 10-hour OSHA course and have at least 58 hours of training plus six project credits with a decision-making role. An installer gets project credits for completed systems: installation of a size from 1 to 999kW qualifies for two project credits and systems of 1MW or more earn you three project credits.

Once you finish your application, the board offers you exams. Exams are available through Computer-Based Testing (CBT) and Live Remote Proctoring (LRP). Certified solar panel installers have to apply for recertification every three years to prove that they stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field.

Manufacturers offer their own certifications

Solar equipment manufacturers can issue their own certificates for contractors. A certification from a provider grants you permission to install their products or improve coverage for them. An example would be a Norwegian company REC that offers a 25-year warranty on product, performance and labor for their product if it is handled by REC certified solar panel installer. Otherwise, REC solar systems get no labor warranty and a 20-year product warranty.

Certificates from manufacturers are relatively easy to obtain. For instance, they can take the form of an online test. Often they require paying a fee. Getting them is not necessary but they can further improve your resume and broaden of scope of projects that you can take on.

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Andrey Gorichenski
Senior Editor

Andrey had been a news editor and freelance writer for a number of medias before joining A1SolarStore team. Climate change and its impact on people's lives has always been among his interests and it partially explains his degree in Philosophy and Ethics.

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